Monday, November 25, 2019

Cotton & Reed: DC’s First Rum Distillery

This month Cotton & Reed Distillery celebrated its third anniversary as DC’s First Rum Distillery. One of their many celebration activities included a release of just 102 bottles of 102-proof Sherried Cask Strength Rum ($50). The process starts with their White Rum ($29) made from Lousiana grown raw cane syrup and blackstrap molasses (6,000 pounds per batch) and fermented with a Rhum Agricole yeast strain and a Chenin Blanc yeast strain. The rum is then aged in used bourbon barrels just like their Mellow Gold Rum ($29). Afterward, the aging rum is transferred to PX Sherry-seasoned casks where PX refers to Pedro Ximénez grapes aged in a solera system where the grape brandy undergoes oxidative aging for an Oloroso. This process involves bottling some of the oldest casks, then refilling with grape brandy from younger casks. Cotton & Reed will follow a similar approach with their Sherried Cask Strength Rum augmenting their first cask with rum from a younger cask.

In addition to their very unique Dry Spiced Rum ($29) that is infused with mostly gin inspired botanicals like juniper instead of baking spices, their Despaccino 2018 ($29) is delicious. The coffee beans come from Counter Culture which are then cold-brewed from Junius Coffee. The rum is also infused with rhubarb, dehydrated orange, and cacao all contributing distinct rich characters.

Finally, don't neglect their cocktails.  I chose a light and refreshing Rumba Palumba made from their White Rum, mezcal, grapefruit, and lemons.  Excellent.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

#ThankfulForVino with Argentinian Chardonnay & Pinot Noir

Be honest. When you think of wine from Argentina you think Malbec.  That's what I thought, that is, until this week during a  #ThankfulForVino tweet-up moderated by Master of Wine Christy Canterbury. The chat focused on new frontiers beyond Malbec particularly since that grape accounts for only 21.4% of plantings in Argentina. Chardonnay & Pinot Noir are two of these new frontiers and are particularly attractive during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Starting with two important facts -- Argentina is the world's 8th largest country and the 5th largest wine-producing country in the world. According to Canterbury, grapes were first planted in the 16th century when Spanish colonizers brought over vines to produce sacramental wine. More recently the wine industry has grown exponentially as the export value grew from $24 million to $821 million and production from 25 million liters to 275 million liters.

There are four main grape-growing regions: the North, Cuyo (Mendoza's home), Patagonia and the newest, Atlantic. In general, precipitation is low, even in El Niño years with Patagonia and the Atlantic regions receiving more annual rainfall than the North and Cuyo. Day-to-night temperature variations (diurnal) are some of the most dramatic on the planet. These temperature fluctuations vary as much as 20C/36F degrees with the swings due to altitude as in Mendoza or high latitude as in Patagonia. See Wines of Argentina.

During this tweet-up, we sampled five wines - three from Mendoza and two from Patagonia.

Catena Alta Mendoza Chardonnay 2017 ($18)
"Alta" means high in Spanish and refers to the two high altitude vineyards from where the grapes are sourced and this cool climate and porous soils are "the promised land of Chardonnay".  The Adrianna Vineyard (80%) is located at almost 5,000 feet in the Andean foothills and the vines are planted in calcareous soil.  The Domingo Vineyard, Lot 7 (20%) is situated at "only" 3,675 ft with alluvial and gravelly soil with limestone deposits in the topsoil.  The wine is simply delicious with soft citrus and green apples, textured, and refreshing acidity.

Mascota Vineyards Unanime Chardonnay ($15)
The grapes for this wine come from the alluvial calcareous soils in Gualtallary Uco Valley, Mendoza, another high altitude and cool climate site at 4,200ft.  Canterbury remarked that Uco Valley wines are very fragrance driven and that describes this wine with its strong floral aroma. On the palate, it is citrus-driven with a slightly buttery and creamy texture, and spices linger with lifting acids. Four hours of skin contact bolster the aromas whereas fermenting in concrete eggs and large French oak foudres create the creamy texture.

Bodega Tapiz Wapisa Pinot Noir 2017 ($19)
The Los Acantilados Estate (San Javier, Atlantic Patagonia, Río Negro) is located very close to the Atlantic Ocean and at only 328 feet above sea level receives plenty of maritime cooling. It is also noted for its lime clay soils that lack organic matter. The proximity to the ocean is reflected in the drawing of a whale's tail on the label.  The wine is initially fruit-forward with red-berries then texture mid-palate finishing with firm yet approachable acids.

Alfredo Rocas Finacas Pinot Noir 2018 ($12)
Sourced from the Finca Santa Herminia vineyard in San Rafael Mendoza, which is lower in altitude but because of the south-facing slopes, cooler than comparable vineyards. But still at 3,000 ft above sea level. The winemaking approach allows the grapes to speak which shows delicious red berries, sweeter spices, some chalk and dust, and a long finish of easy tannins.

Schroeder Family Saurus Select Pinot Noir 2017 ($18)
The vineyards of Familia Schroeder sit in the San Patricio del Chanar valley, a new region in Patagonia. Canterbury believes this will be the next important wine region to emerge from Argentina due to its attractive grape growing attributes: light stony soils, irrigation from pure melt-water, intense sunlight, and a substantial diurnal temperature difference. And lots of wind. The Saurus label is named for the 75 million years old fossilized dinosaur bones that were found near the winery site. The wine itself is complex with dusty cherries, chewy tannins, and fresh acids. A great finish to the evening.

Monday, November 18, 2019

St. Martin of Tours, Croatia, & Komarna Wine

On the days preceding and subsequent to Monday, November 11th, Europeans and Catholics celebrated the Feast of St Martin -- in honor of the patron of the poor, soldiers, conscientious objectors, tailors, and winemakers. One of these celebrations occurred at the Embassy of Croatia in Washington D.C. where Croatian Premium Wine Imports poured several wines from the newly designated Komarna appellation to honor St. Martinje.

Saint Martin of Tours was born in Pannonia (present-day Hungary) in either the year 316 or 336 AD.  His father was a high-ranking officer in the Imperial Horse Guard and a pagan, but at the age of 10, Martin converted to Christianity as the gospel expanded throughout the Roman empire.  Roman law required full participation in military affairs so, at the age of 15, Martin followed his father into the cavalry corps were tradition claims he served in Gaul, Milan, and Trier (Treves).
Courtesy of Catholic Online

His inspirational moment occurred while still young when he encountered a beggar in Amiens, France. The beggar was practically naked and freezing so Martin cut his cloak in half with his sword and gave one piece to the beggar and retained the other half for himself. That night, Martin had a vision in which Christ appeared to him and said: "Martin, a mere catechumen has clothed me.". A catechumen is one who undergoing the long process of instruction in the Christian faith but Martin was well aware of Matthew 25:45.

Afterward, Martin made clear to his superiors that he would no longer fight because of his Christian conscience. He refused his military pay and announced he would not join in future combat, thus becoming the first recognized conscientious objector in recorded history. He was accused of cowardice but Martin countered that to prove his sincerity he would ride into battle unarmed.  Fortunately, a truce was signed shortly before an upcoming battle and Martin was subsequently released from military service.

Courtesy of Catholic Online
He traveled to Tours where he began studying under an eventual doctor of the Church, Hilary of Poitiers. Over time he brought his Mother into the church and became a defender against the Arian heresy which denied the divinity of Jesus. He was forced to flee to an island in the Adriatic where he lived as a hermit for a while but eventually returned to Tours after the Council of Nicea. In 371, the faithful called Martin to the office of Bishop which he reluctantly accepted and served until his death in 397.

During his years as Bishop, Martin nurtured an immense love for wine and began blessing the beverage in order to make it more popular among laypeople. Throughout Europe, this tradition has continued with winemakers giving thanks to St. Martin for a good harvest. In Croatia, Martinje celebrates the day that must, or young wine matures into wine fit for drinking.  But before indulging the wine must first be baptized and turned into chaste wine, since must is considered impure.

At the Croatian Embassy, the community celebrated St. Martinje and the indulgence of Croatian wine though the Croatian Premium Wine Imports (CPWI). Their portfolio consists of wines from the Komarna winegrowing area where the vines were first planted in 2008 with a formal appellation designated in April 2013. The region is located in South Dalmatia between Split and Dubrovnik where the vines overlook the Adriatic Sea -- sometimes on 30-degree slopes. The grape varieties are primarily the indigenous Plavac Mali and Pošip with lesser amounts of international varieties Syrah, Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Cabernet, Viognier.

There are currently seven wineries in the Komarna appellation, and most unique, all seven are certified by the EU for organic production. This development was accelerated because the wineries starting near the same time and were able to leverage the same resources when surveying plots, planting the vineyards, and building out production and tasting room facilities. Economies of scale in action. Their youthfulness also allowed them to adopt the latest in technological advances pertaining to vineyard management and winemaking chemistry where even some laboratories are utilized by Croatian state wine officials.

During the St. Martinje Celebration, we sampled six wines from four of these winemakers: Saints Hills, Rizman, Volarević, and Terra Madre.  Starting with the later winery, the Terra Madre selection consisted of a Pošip 2018, Plavac Mali Rose 2018, and a Plavac Mali Premium 2015.  Besides being unique in offering a rose, this winery is known for adding a small percentage of international varieties into their indigenous wines. They added a little structure using Chardonnay with the Pošip and roundness using the Cabernet Sauvignon with the Plavac Mali. In fact, the four Plavac Mali were all completely distinct in style with the Rizman Plavac Mali 2016 being elegant with elevated fruit and the Volarevic Plavac Mali 2016 being complex with a fruit on the tongue and spices and tannins dominating the tail. Finally, the Volarevic Plavac Mali Gold 2013 is a bolder, full-bodied wine which consists of 30% raisined grapes and the wine aged 24 months in oak and four years in the bottle before release.  Think raisins and figs and structured tannins.

The CPWI online store will be available very soon and will be augmented with Croatian wines from Istria shortly. Cheers to St. Martinje.

Update: The Croatian Premium Wine Imports online store is now available.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A Day Trip Along the Shenandoah Spirits Trail

The Shenandoah Spirits Trail consists of 49 breweries, cider houses, distilleries, and wineries within the Shenandoah Valley and located between Harrisonburg and Winchester. These destinations are an easy day trip from the DC Metro area and are worth leveraging when visiting the Valley's Civil War sites, scenic roads, and outdoor activities. And try to stay for the sunsets. Here are a few we visited recently.

Old Hill Cider - Timberville
The is an outgrowth of Showalters Orchard where the Showalter family has been growing apples for over 50 years on a century-old orchard. Cidermaker Shannon Showalter established the first cider house in the Shenandoah Valley by fermenting various heirloom apples such as Pippen, Winesap, and Stayman. These are the blend for the refreshing Yesteryear dry cider. Full a fuller cider, try the Cidermaker's Barrel where the juice is fermented using wild yeast then racked into barrels -- developing texture and depth. And walk out back to sip and enjoy the scenic valley.

Swover Creek Farms and Kitchen - Edinburg
Swover Creek Farms was established just over a decade ago by Lynn and Dave St.Clair, diversifying their 100+-year-old family farm into berries and about 6 years ago 14 hop varieties. In 2014 they opened a small brewery operation using a 3.5 barrel brew system with 2 fermenters and 4 bright tanks. These are located in a renovated barn with a former cow loafing shed used for outdoor covered seating. Inside enjoy house-made pizza, Swover Creek smoked sausages and several styles of beer. Our favorites were the Saison and Lager.

Wolf Gap Vineyard - Edinburg
Willard and Diane Elledge founded Wolf Gap Vineyard and Winery 15 years ago on a 48-acre estate. The views of Wolf Gap and the Great North Mountains from their deck is worth a visit in itself, but an added bonus is the well-crafted wines offered. The 50-50 2017 Viognier-Traminette blend is refreshingly unique while the 2016 Chardonnay is textured and crisp. Nut the dry reds are their strong suit starting with the 2015 Chambourcin Reserve. Smokey and spicy but not jammy. The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve proves that this grape can excel in pockets in the Commonwealth and the 2013 Mariage Reserve (Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc) is delicious.

Reminder: theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to these destinations. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Comparative Cabernet Franc - Colorado vs Virginia

"I'm not a huge enthusiast of the sexual stereotyping of wines but even I can see that Cabernet Franc might be described as the feminine side of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is subtly fragrant and gently flirtatious rather than massively muscular and tough in youth. Because Cabernet Sauvignon has so much more of everything – body, tannin, alcohol, colour – it is often supposed to be necessarily superior, but I have a very soft spot indeed for its more charming and more aromatic relative, Cabernet Franc." -- Jancis Robinson
Whereas Cabernet Franc is mostly known from its Bourdeaux (St-Émilion and Pomerol) and Loire (Chinon) homes, this black-skinned wine grape has been widely planted in the United States - particularly in wine regions such as the Finger Lakes, Long Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Colorado.

Colorado Case Club Wines
These regions provide challenging conditions for grapevines such as short growing seasons, frost, and humidity. Cabernet Franc's relative thick skins and loose clusters allow the grape to withstand humidity; yet frost and short growing seasons are still detrimental since the grape buds and matures earlier than say, Cabernet Sauvignon. These conditions heighten the inherent green vegetal character of Cabernet Franc due to the increased presence of the chemical pyrazine in these unripened grapes.  Winemakers can attempt to compensate for this overly green vegetal character by increasing oak treatment - in many cases leading to overly oaked and dull wines.

Virginia Case Club Wines
During the BevFluence Experience Denver, we sampled several Cabernet Franc wines, a few from the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board and another from the Virginia Wine Board.  This provided a small, yet interesting, sampling of comparative Cabernet Franc.  The grapes from the Colorado wine were sourced from the Grand Valley located on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains - basically a high altitude desert at over 4,500 feet with sunny days and cool nights.  In Virginia, the grapes were also grown on the western slope of a mountain range, in this case, the Blue Ridge Mountains and between 1,000 and 1,400 feet above sea level.  Besides elevation, another difference is the lush green environment and potential humidity common to the Commonwealth.

Out of the four wines sampled, two were very similar - one each from Colorado and Virginia.  Both were luscious, full-bodied, velvety, finishing with lifting acids and firm tannins. Both wines were devoid of the inherent green vegetal character and while receiving some oak, neither was overly so.  Two home runs from uniquely distinct regions.

BookCliff Vineyards 2015 Grand Valley Reserve Cabernet Franc ($26.99)
In 1995, John Garlich and Ulla Merz purchased a ten-acre peach farm just outside of Palisade in Colorado's Grand Valley AVA and quickly planted grapevines on six of these acres. They sold off most of their initial grape harvest but soon established the winery and named it after the Book Cliffs, a series of desert mountains and cliffs in western Colorado and eastern Utah. They also strove to produce 100% Colorado-grown wines and have slowly increased their holdings to 37 acres planted with 14 different varieties. The Cabernet Franc grapes were harvested from the estate vineyard that benefits from sunny days and cool nights at this high altitude desert. It's easy to see how this wine won Best of Show in Colorado's 2018 Governor’s Cup Wine Competition.

Glen Manor Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc ($31.99)
Around the same time as the establishment of BookCliff, Jeff Raymond White planted vines on a parcel of land that had been in his family for over a hundred years and which was originally part of a larger land grant owned by Lord Fairfax of England. Chief Justice John Marshall eventually purchased a share of these holdings and through various sales cascaded to Stephen Clifton Lawson (Jeff’s great-grandfather). Since 1995, White has planted his Cabernet Franc in different lots experimented in slope, soil, exposures and canopy cover which eventually lead to two plantings that combined to produce this Governor's Cup Case Club wine.

Monday, November 4, 2019

International #SherryWeek with González Byass

November 4th through the 11th has been designated International #SherryWeek by Consejo Regulador de las Denominaciones de Origen "Jerez-Xérès-Sherry" or in short, Vinos de Jerez.  We generally skip these marketing campaigns but for Sherry, expect a steady stream of posts here and on social media all week. Let's start with González Byass, perhaps the most popular sherry producer through their Tio Pepe winery in Jerez and two of their sherries.

Vina AB Amontillado ($24.99)
This wine starts with a Tio Pepe base after the standard four years in the Tio Pepe solera system. This means that it consists of 100% Palomino Fino grapes that have fermented and aged in a process that allows for the development of flor -- a unique layer of yeast produced naturally in Jerez. This layer protects the wine from oxygen and after four years of age, provides the wine with its unique aroma and character. After four years, the wine is then transferred to the Vina AB Solera where it remains for an additional eight years which extracts elements from the American Oak such as caramel and vanilla. The wine also features the essence of dried fruits and nuts while staying relatively dry.

The Vina AB Amontillado can be consumed by itself yet for Halloween, we found that a Butterfinger pairs nicely, with the peanuts complementing the dried fruits and nuts.  However, this wine's best usage is an ingredient in cocktails with many offered by a quick search online. It appears the Gin is the most popular companion with my favorite becoming a version of the Tuxedo.  The base is 1.5 ounces of London dry gin and 1 oz of Vina AB, then .5 oz of Lusardo Maraschino, three dashes of orange bitters, and one dash of absinthe.  Not having any Lusardo or absinthe on hand I replaced these with Monarch Bitters - using Pistachio Cherry Syrup and Cayenne Ginger bitters.  A rather delicious cocktail.

Noé VORS Pedro Ximenez ($49.99)
Dessert in a bottle. The PX grapes were fermented and fortified in the Nectar Solera system where the grapes were fermented to 7% and then fortified to 15%. After eight years of aging, the wine enters the Noé Solera system for 30 years. This results in a complex and textured wine, sweet figs and lifting acidity. If you care to pair with candy, try a Twizzlers - but this is a fantastic wine solo.

Disclosure: We received samples from González Byass in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Virginia Wine Month Along U.S. Route 29

October was Virginia Wine Month and we were able to visit a few wineries while traveling along U.S. Route 29 to and from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Known as the Seminole Trail or "29th Infantry Division Memorial Highway", this well-traveled road runs from the Tarheel state through Virginia and intersects several popular wine regions within the Commonwealth. These wine trails include the Fauquier County Wine Trail, Monticello Wine Trail, Jefferson Heritage Trail, and SoVA Wine TrailtheCompass Craft Beverage Finder can guide you to these destinations with the wineries we visited listed south to north.

Lazy Days Winery
This winery is located in Amherst County right off the highway and resides just a few miles south of Rebec offers ten wines all from 100% estate grapes.  Starting with dry wines, the Chardonnay Reserve 2014 ($20) is just slightly oaked -- providing light butter and texture and a bottle came home. I also purchased the friendly Sweet Lazy Red ($20), a well made off-dry wine that is a blend of Chambourcin and Petit Manseng.  It's sibling, the Sweet Lazy White ($18) is a festival favorite being 2.5% r.s. but plenty of acidity from the majority Petit Manseng and Vidal Blanc grapes. And for dry reds, try the 2013 Petit Verdot ($22).

Rebec Vineyards
This winery resides just a few miles north of Lazy Days and for history enthusiasts, the family home, Mountainview, is listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and as a Virginia Landmark. Winemaker Svetlozar Kanev is a native Bulgarian and his signature wine is the Sweet Sofia ($19) - an herb-infused based on a Bulgarian recipe.  Its worth bring a bottle home to experiment with various food or situational pairings. The remaining portfolio is quite extensive encompassing dry to sweet wines using grapes and other fruit. The dry reds are well made and tasty - particularly the Pinot Noir ($26), Cabernet Franc ($24), and Landmark Reserve Sangiovese ($30). Other visitors raved about the semi-dry Riesling ($20) but I preferred the Gewurtztraminer ($23), Chardonnay ($20), and Viognier ($20). These three were very representative of the specific grape varieties and, with the Sweet Sofia, are resting in our cellar.

Brent Manor Vineyards
This is a relatively new winery situated south of Charlottesville and north of Lovingston -- right off the highway in Faber. The winery reflects the Portuguese heritage of owner Jorge Raposo. They even offer several Portuguese wines for sale but for our purposes, we are covering their Virginia made wines.  These wines are made from a combination of French hybrid and vinifera grapes and take my word - do not discount the hybrids. The 2017 Brent Manor Vidal Blanc ($17) is full of grapefruit and melon flavors plus refreshing acids - a solid wine. Similarly, the 2016 Chambourcin Reserve ($29) is full-bodied, with slight spice and leather and the reason for our visit. The representative from Lazy Days had mentioned that it was the best Chambourcin in the Commonwealth and he may be correct.  Another solid and refreshing wine is their 2015 Rosado Virginia Rose Wine ($19) - a blend of Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, and Viognier.  More raspberry than strawberry for this one.  In order to stay true to Portugal, Brent Manor produces a couple Port styled wines and take a look at the 2018 Vihno Abafado Branco ($29) made from a Petit Manseng base and fortified with neutral grape spirits. The nuts, vanilla, and acidity kill it.

Montifalco Vineyard
Since we were traveling North, Raposo suggested this new endeavor located in Advance Mills, just off Route 29 between Ruckersville and the Charlottesville Airport. The winery's name Montifalco is a play on the Monticello AVA and owner Justin Falco's family name. The estate vineyard is planted with an interesting mix of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Rkatsiteli, and Saperavi - the latter two originating from cuttings from Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars and perhaps available next year. At the top of the tasting sheet is the white Bordeaux 2018 Montifalco Blanc ($22) and the 2017 Montifalco Barrel Reserve Chardonnay ($25). Both are excellent wines, spot on and flavor profiles and I couldn't leave without a bottle of each. The 2018 Montifalco Cabernet Franc ($23)  and 2016 Montifalco Meritage ($35) were also solid wines particularly for the Cabernet Franc considering rain-soaked 2018 was a horrible grape season. Thus, this is a lighter-bodied wine but with enough cherries and acidity to make it interesting. In contrast, the Meritage -- made from all five Bordeaux red grapes -- is full-bodied, juicy, textured, a little dirty, with firm grippy tannins.